Wildlife Ethics & “Pedals” the Bear

Black Bear
American Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Management – my next class starts tomorrow.  Recent events in the local news involving an upright-walking bear have given me the opportunity to think about one of my most recent courses, environmental ethics, the learnings from which I attempt to apply to this topic.

Have you heard of the upright-walking bear in New Jersey?  The bear has been dubbed “Pedals” by some local residents and sightings of the bear have resulted in the establishment of social media pages, YouTube videos, fundraisers and media coverage.  From the information available through these sources, the bear has experienced injuries which resulted in the loss of one front paw and very limited use of the other front paw (accounts vary on the bear’s ability to use either front paw).

I became aware of this bear several week’s ago after receiving requests for information and assistance through a social media page I maintain (for a group of volunteer naturalists).  Since then, I have learned that the bear has survived either two or three winters (again, accounts vary) in this condition and is being monitored by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.

There are at least two Facebook groups which devote considerable time to discussing the bear – one which wants to “rescue” the bear and deliver it to a sanctuary in New York and another which wants the bear “left alone”.  For me, this is the significant ethical issue associated with this animal – should the bear be rescued, placed (essentially) into protective custody, and tended to by wildlife rehabilitators or should it be left in the wild?

When faced with an injured wild animal, I think most reasonable people would agree that there are three courses of action available to wildlife managers (like the good folks at NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife) – no intervention, treatment, or euthanasia.

Thus far, the folks in Fish and Wildlife have opted for the “no intervention” approach.  However, is that the proper choice?  In their essay Ethics of Interventions for the Welfare of Free-Living Wild Animals, J.K. Kirkwood and A.W. Sainsbury (1996) of the Zoological Society of London provide one possible framework for considering this question.  According to Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996), the three choices (taken from the text of their essay) could be defined as:

(a) No intervention: If the animal is likely to recover without treatment, and if treatment would be an unjustifiable added stress, then there is no case for intervention.
(b) Euthanasia: If the animal is unlikely to recover, is judged to be in pain or distress and cannot be treated, then euthanasia is justifiable on welfare grounds.
(c) Treatment: There are two situations where treatment is justifiable on welfare grounds. The first is if an animal is likely to recover without treatment but its welfare is better served by treating than by not treating (e.g., by reducing the time to recovery). The second is if the animal is unlikely to recover without treatment and treatment (and subsequent management and release) can be accomplished with relatively little stress.

So, it would appear, Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996) agree that there are situations where treatment of wild animals is justified on welfare grounds (emphasis added).  The factors which could be used to justify treatment of a wild animal include 1) the extent to which humans are responsible for the injury, 2) the extent to which the animal is under management and control (e.g., living in a wildlife management area vs. living in an uncontrolled environment), 3) the degree of “perceived suffering”, and 4) other cultural and economic factors such as the animals conservation status (e.g., endangered vs. common) or popularity (e.g., baby seal vs. common rat) (Kirkwood & Sainsbury, 1996).

From the available public information, I have not been able to determine the cause of the bear’s injuries and, from all accounts, it is free ranging (moving from wooded areas to suburban areas at will).  Is the animal suffering?  While no one can say with certainty that the animal is (or is not) experiencing pain, it does appear to be flourishing – it has reportedly gained significant weight recently and has survived at least two severe winter seasons under its current condition.  Finally, black bear are not considered an endangered species under either the U.S. or New Jersey laws.

So what does this leave us?


As Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996) observed, popularity is a completely illogical consideration when deciding how best to deal with an injured wild animal, but it is one of the most powerful factors in influencing public opinion.  So what should be done?  For myself, I am in the “leave the bear alone” camp and agree with the position of NJ Fish and Wildlife that the bear should not be removed from its wild environment as long as it continues to flourish (e.g., gains weight, remains mobile, exhibits no obvious signs of physical suffering).

There are a number of people who disagree with that position.  However, I would challenge those folks to really think their reasoning behind wanting this bear removed from the wild.  Would there the Facebook pages, media articles, fundraisers, and public debate if “Pedals” was a common Norway rat (like those found sewers and subway systems around the world)?  What other animals should be singled out for special treatment?  Why?  And, perhaps most importantly, who gets to decide?

If you would like to read the Kirkwood and Sainsbury essay, you can find it by following this link or through this reference:

Kirkwood, J. & Sainsbury, A. (1996). Ethics of interventions for the welfare of free-living wild animals. Animal Welfare, 5, 235-243.

What do you think?  Should “Pedals” be removed from the wild and placed in an animal sanctuary because of his injured front paws?  Should the bear be left alone?  These are difficult questions which everyone should decide for themselves.

One note of caution – the comments on social media about this situation have often resulted in name calling and flaming among the participants.  While I encourage you to comment, please keep the posts civil and on topic.  I reserve the right to delete any post which, in my opinion, does not adhere to my request (without regard to the position taken by the commenter).






Big Year Birding – 5 Tips for a Fun and Successful Big Year

Here is a reposting from my NJ Big Year Blog – timely information for anyone planning a big year!

My New Jersey Big Year


Are you thinking about doing a big year in 2014?  Believe it or not, there’s still time to plan for a fun and successful birding year.

I have received questions about and requests for tips on how to plan and prepare for a big year.   As my year is coming rapidly to a close, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on planning for a big year (or big day or big month, whatever you have the appetite for).

Let’s start with GOALS –  why do you want to do a big year and what do you want to get out of it?  There are as many reasons for doing a big year as there are birders.  Are you doing this for personal achievement, fun, fund-raising, or competition?   Do you have a “magic number” of species that you hope to see?  Are there particular areas you would like to include or exclude in your birding activities?  …

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Life Gets Busy – Sometimes

IMG_0292 (3)

Happy New Year’s Eve!  It has been a few months since my last post and, yep, it has been busy.  But I am missing my blog and that’s probably a good thing.  As I make up the list of stuff I want to change for 2016, being here a bit more ranks very high.

Here’s a shot of one of my favorite lighthouses – Barnegat Light.  I was there a few days ago with a group of friends, birding along the bay.  The weather patterns of the past few weeks have been very unusual, unusually warm, and the “regular” winter birds were not there in the number or variety that we anticipated. Still, it was a very good day – a bad day of birding is better than a good day at work!

I will get deeper into the reasons for my absence in following posts.  Until then – I hope you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

NJ Pine Barrens Flowers

Pine Barren or Golden Heather

I was fortunate enough to spend some time last weekend birding in the NJ Pine Barrens and several of the spring flowers in were full bloom.  This beautiful golden flower is known as Pine Barren Heather or Golden Health (Hudsonia ericoides).  Pine Barren Heather is a small shrub which grows in dry open sandy areas throughout the pine barrens and several plants were in full bloom last weekend.

Sand Myrtle
Sand Myrtle

Sand Myrtle is another low flowering shrub that grows in sandy patches, but prefers wet areas over dry.  Even though it has been a relatively dry spring, these lovely white-flowered shrubs were blooming in many of low wet areas I walked through this weekend.

I hope you enjoy the flowers….I took the photos with my cell phone as I walked from spot to spot during one of my bird surveys for the New Jersey Audubon.

Until next time….







Words Matter or Word Matters – Skeptics or Deniers

Source: http://forecastthefacts.org/
Source: http://forecastthefacts.org/

This is a topic that is much, much larger than a single blog posting – but that’s okay.  We have got to start someplace.

I mentioned in my last post that I am enrolled in a MOOC entitled “Making Sense of Climate Science Denial” and one discussion topic focuses on the characteristics of and differences between skepticism and denial.

Why does the choice between these two words matter?

Valid question – let’s explore some of the possible answers together.

John Cook, Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia, offers the following explanations for the importance of choosing the right word to describe a person’s stance on a scientific question (in this case, climate change and global warming).  According to Cook (2015), skepticism is an integral part of the scientific method and, as a result, scientists are skeptical of new claims until the evidence supporting that claim becomes overwhelming.  A person who denies well-established science, such as the evidence supporting climate change and global warming, first reaches a conclusion and then rejects any evidence that conflicts with their beliefs (Cook, 2015).  As John Cook argues, skepticism and denial really are “polar opposites” (nice turn of a phrase, don’t you think?).

John Cook isn’t the only person, or even the first, to concern himself with the topic of scientific denialism and how the scientific community ought to respond.  Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee (2009) found that science denial consisted of five characteristics, including fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry picking, and conspiracy theories, and has been used by deniers to support their rejection of a wide range of scientifically valid studies on human evolution, the link between smoking and cancer, and human-caused global warming.

There are other blog posts, peer-reviewed papers, and articles in the popular press which toss this issue around in much greater detail – too much detail for a single blog post – and I would encourage you to take some time and research the topic for yourself.  There are a number of good search engines for doing scientific research and one of my favorites is Google Scholar.  It can be challenging to find an entire paper posted online, particularly papers which have been published in peer-reviewed or scholarly journals.  However, a quick trip to your local library may help you to find a copy of that paper or, if you are lucky enough to be a student or work at an educational institution, you can probably retrieve papers online through your institution’s library.

What do you think?  Is it a big deal to use the word “skeptic” to describe someone who denies well established science?

I believe it is a big deal because influential climate change/global warming deniers try to label themselves as “skeptics”, suggesting that their denial has scientific merit. The popular press does a very poor job distinguishing between these terms as well, adding to the confusion of the general public about the differences between skepticism and denialism and, worse, the level of scientific consensus associated with global warming and climate change.

What is the level of scientific consensus for human-caused global warming?

That sounds like a great topic for a later forum posting, don’t you think? (Spoiler alert – it is huge!)

So do I, so until next time…….



Cook, J. (2015, April 22). Taking back skepticism [HTML document]. Retrieved from http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/taking_back_skepticism

Diethelm, P. & McKee, M. (2009). Denialism: What is it and how should scientists respond? The European Journal of Public Health, 19(1), 2-4

That took longer than I expected……….

Hovnanian 2014-05-18_06-17-35_523
Sunrise in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

I really could not have imagined that it would take me nearly a year and a half to get back to blogging.  When I finished the post back on the last day of 2014, I expected to take a few weeks off and sort out the result of my big year.

It was a great year and, in addition to learning more about birding in New Jersey than I ever thought possible, I also learned a bit more about myself and the direction in which I wanted to take my life.

What, you ask, did I learn?

To perhaps repeat myself a bit, I learned that (from a birding point of view) I am neither a chaser or a builder of birding lists.  Before the slings and arrows start – I am not saying there’s anything wrong with either activity.  Some folks (including my non-birding wife) enjoy the thrill of the chase and can’t really get excited about simply taking a walk in a park and looking at the “same ole birds”.  Some folks enjoy keeping long lists of the birds they’ve seen, where they saw them, the first and last dates of each year’s observations…and so on and so forth.

Not me.

But learning what I enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) about birding wasn’t the only lesson of my New Jersey Big Year (the blog is still up, by the way, if you want to give it a read).  I discovered that I am truly passionate about nature and climate, and protecting both so that my children, grandchildren, and their children will have a planet worth living in.

Energized by these new self-discoveries, I been busy since my last serious period of blog postings.  I completed training to become a Volunteer Master Naturalist through Stockton College (now Stockton University) and spent several hours last year volunteering for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) at Edwin Forysthe National Wildlife Refuge.  I also continued volunteering for New Jersey Audubon’s Citizen Science program, completing breeding surveys of grassland and pinelands birds.

Perhaps the biggest step, through, has been my enrollment in American Public University’s Master’s Degree in Environmental Policy and Management.  Since June of last year, I have completed five courses toward my degree, expanding my understanding of principles such as environmental economics, adaptive management, toxicology, research techniques, and environmental law.  As you might guess, my graduate studies have taken up an enormous amount of time and left very little for other things – like blogging.

I have decided to take a few weeks off from class work to refresh and re-energize – and I am liking it.  It feels a bit odd not to have a paper due, or a quiz to take, or a forum posting to write.  But odd is good right now and the last couple of weeks have convinced me I was ready for a break.

So what am I doing in my free time?  Attending my grandkids’ sporting events.  Catching up on some reading.


And generally working through a few ideas for the next phase of my graduate work.  I have nearly finished all of the “required” courses and am now moving into to “concentration” portion of my program.  I have a bit more flexibility on which courses to take, which means it is truly decision time for choosing the direction of the remainder of my program.

I am also participating in a Massive Open Online Course or MOOC which is focused on the reasons some people use to justify their denial of science, especially climate science.  Whether you call it global warming or climate change, our planet is experiencing human-caused (anthropogenic) warming and serious steps are necessary to address it.  This course focuses on several areas including (taken from the web site):

  • How to recognize the social and psychological drivers of climate science denial
  • How to better understand climate change: the evidence that it is happening, that humans are causing it and the potential impacts
  • How to identify the techniques and fallacies that climate myths employ to distort climate science
  • How to effectively debunk climate misinformation

I am enjoying the class thus far and learning quite a bit, without the pressure of tests, papers, or grades.

That is what I have been up to over the past several months.  My plan is to get more involved in blogging again and time will tell if I am able to keep it going (this time).  I hope so.

I also hope that you’ll take a few minutes to drop me a note – what have you been up recently?  Any big or small changes in your life?  I’d love to hear all about it!

Until next time….


Big Year Birding – Wrap Up

The final wrap up of My New Jersey Big Year!

My New Jersey Big Year


I have spent the last couple days reflecting on My New Jersey Big Year, what I accomplished, and what I learned about birding and myself.

I was able to bird in all 21 New Jersey counties at least once – driving almost 9000 miles along the way.  To add some perspective to that number – the approximate distance from the Eastern Coast of the US to the Western Coast is about 3000 miles.  I drove the equivalent of three coast-to-coast trips without leaving New Jersey.

I managed to see 310 bird species plus a Eurasian Teal which I found, much to my surprise, doesn’t count as a full species (according to eBird).  Apparently, Green-winged Teal is considered a sub-species of Eurasian Teal – go figure – so you can count one but not both!   Don’t get me wrong – It was still very cool to finally see a Eurasian Teal.

I didn’t bird every day…

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